With Javier Milei's victory in the Argentine presidential elections, a recurring question arises again: Will Pope Francis visit his native country in 2024?
Javier Milei, from the La Libertad Avanza party, defeated Sergio Massa, the current Minister of Economy and candidate of the Unión por la Patria party, previously known as Frente de Todos, with a progressive and Peronist tendency. The initial results gave Milei 55.95% of the votes and Massa 44.04%.
Massa acknowledged his defeat on Sunday evening as the official vote count progressed, stating that "the results are not what we expected." He also confirmed that he called Milei to congratulate him, as he is "the president chosen by the majority of Argentinians for the next four years."
"The idea is to go next year"
Since the beginning of his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has not visited his native Argentina, despite trips to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and neighboring Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile. Returning to his homeland remains an unfulfilled task of these past ten years.
While the Argentine people's request for a visit from the Holy Father has been ongoing, it gained momentum in recent months through interviews where the Pontiff hinted at the possibility of fulfilling this wish in 2024. "I want to go to the country next year," he said in an April interview with La Nación. "I have always wanted to return to the country," he added.
In May, during a meeting with the youth of Scholas Occurrentes for the foundation's tenth anniversary, he again responded to the question: “Do you have plans to visit Argentina soon?”. “The idea is to go next year,” Pope Francis replied.
The hope has been growing in recent months, to the extent that the Hogares de Cristo organization, an ecclesial entity dedicated to the prevention and treatment of addictions, organized a campaign called “Vení, Francisco, tu pueblo te espera” (Come, Francis, your people await you).
In recent days, a video circulated on WhatsApp and published on social network X, where various people claim that "If Massa wins, the Pope will come." The video features Father Francisco Olveira saying, "If the Pope comes, social justice comes," after telling a young resident of Barrio Esperanza in the Buenos Aires suburbs to take a photo with him on the condition that he "does not vote for Milei."
On the other hand, at the last plenary assembly of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, the Bishops sent a letter to the Pontiff, joining "the feelings of our people who wish to meet their Shepherd," inviting him to visit the country.
"Your closeness and blessing will do us all much good in these difficult times," they assert. "Trusting in the possibility that you consider making this visit to the country, we entrust you to Our Lady of Luján, patroness of Argentina," the document concludes.
The Two Candidates and Pope Francis
However, the electoral scenario began to cast doubt on a possible visit from the Holy Father, as one of the candidates, Javier Milei, had previously insulted him.
In 2020, Milei described Pope Francis as "the representative of evil on Earth" and also called him a "Jesuit who promotes communism."
In a recent interview with American journalist Tucker Carlson, Milei said that the Pope "condescends to the left" and does not follow the Ten Commandments by defending "social justice," which he calls "a robbery."
Regarding this, Monsignor Oscar Ojea, president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, expressed: "One of the candidates has spoken with unspeakable insults and falsehoods. As Monsignor Gustavo Carrara said, the Pope is for us a prophet of human dignity in a time of violence and exclusion. But, on the other hand, he is also a Head of State who deserves particular respect."
In the presidential debate prior to the October elections, candidate Sergio Massa confronted Milei about his statements against the Holy Father: “Javier, more than a question, I want to make a request. Argentina has millions of Catholic faithful, and you offended the head of the Church. I want you to use these 45 seconds to apologize to the Pope, who is the most important Argentine in history," he stated.
"It seems you are not well informed because I had already apologized for that, and I would do it again, because if I am wrong, I have no problem in repeating that I am sorry for that," responded the candidate from La Libertad Avanza.
“Moreover, one of the things I said is that if the Pope wanted to come to Argentina, he would be respected not only as a head of state but also as the leader of the Catholic Church, so come on, stop quibbling and dedicate yourself to lowering inflation and ending the government in a dignified way, come on,” he concluded on that occasion.
Days later, at the closing act of the La Libertad Avanza block campaign, the party's economic advisor, Alberto Benegas Lynch, stated: "Out of consideration for my Catholic religion, out of respect for that religion, I believe we should imitate what President (Julio Argentino) Roca did (at the end of the 19th century), that is, suspend diplomatic relations with the Vatican while there is a totalitarian spirit there."
These statements were clarified by Milei himself, who assured that "it was part of Alberto Benegas Lynch's speech; it was a personal declaration."
"We understand that Argentina is a Catholic country with strong ties to the Church. It would be irresponsible on my part to do something of that nature," he added.
The last presidential debate, last Sunday, was another occasion when the presidential candidates referred to Pope Francis.
Sergio Massa again questioned Javier Milei in the thematic block on "Argentina's Relations with the World," reminding him of the insults he had hurled at the Pontiff, and asking him once more if he would apologize.
The libertarian assured that "he did it in private" and that his apologies "were received," adding: "We are willing to receive him in Argentina, give him the honors of a head of state, and not only that, but also give him the honors befitting the spiritual leader of the Church, given the Catholic creed of the Argentines."
Milei took the opportunity to distance himself once again from Benegas Lynch's statements about breaking relations with the Vatican. "What a member or a follower says does not mean that it is the position of La Libertad Avanza," he clarified.
For his part, Massa promised: "We will work to ensure that the Pope comes in 2024."
A visit from Pope Francis after Easter?
In recent weeks, rumors have circulated in various Catholic circles that the visit would be scheduled for after Easter and would include a stop by the Pope in Uruguay.
On December 10th, Javier Milei will assume the presidency of the nation, setting a new political scenario in the country. Although some sources indicated that Pope Francis's visit is not conditioned "on the victory or defeat of any party," the last word will not be said until the Holy See announces his trip.
Julieta Villar Holds a Degree in Social Communication from the National University of La Matanza (Argentina). She is a Correspondent for ACI Prensa in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Uruguay.